In the nearly two decades since his retirement in 2000, Professor Emeritus of Religion Gene Swanger has continued to educate students with his expert knowledge of East Asia. His classroom, however, has not been filled with recent high school graduates as one might expect. Instead, his students have been colonels, Navy captains, and one-star generals.
Since 2003, Swanger has presented several times a year on East Asian history, culture, and ethics at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, through the Medical Strategic Leadership Program (MSLP), a continuing education program that prepares both American and foreign-national military medical officers for the leadership challenges of combined health service support operations.
“The foreign military doctors are all selected by our embassies overseas, and I’ve had a broad range of military doctors from all over the world in my class,” said Swanger, including from the Middle East, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Australia, Taiwan, Japan, Russia, and Europe.
The course offers a significant section on China, including Chinese economic issues, Chinese and international relations, and Chinese and internal political matters. Swanger has presented primarily on how ethical issues have developed historically in China.
“When [the military doctors] get to the rank of full colonel or Navy captain, they’re having to work with their counterparts in other branches of the service, many of whom have master’s degrees in international affairs, and a few of those people have Ph.D.s in international relations,” he said. “This course is devoted to bringing [the medical officers] up to speed on international and strategic issues around the world.”
Described by students as “the best and most memorable presenter in the entire MSLP” and “a walking encyclopedia,” Swanger, who founded Wittenberg’s East Asian Studies program in 1970, received nothing but the very highest ratings in recent course evaluations.
“He fostered learning and student interactions with his insightful, gentle, and humble teaching style,” wrote one student. “He never lost sight of the experiences of his veteran students and our unique challenges in the fields of security and healthcare.”
Swanger retired this year from the MSLP. In recognition of his service and outstanding contributions to the program, he received an honor he never would have imagined. On Sept. 9, 2019, he was commissioned an honorary admiral in the Texas Navy by Texas Governor Greg Abbot. His wife, Carolyn, was awarded an honorary Yellow Rose of Texas.
Maj. Gen. Patrick D. Sargent, commanding officer of the U.S. Army Medical Center of Excellence, wrote in a letter to Swanger, “The MSLP serves as one of the cornerstones of the Army Medical Center of Excellence, and it is because of your efforts the course is so highly regarded. Your presence in the classroom will be deeply missed.”
In addition to teaching at the Defense Institute of Security Cooperation Studies at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Swanger also served as a guest lecturer from 1983-2016 at the U.S. State Department’s Foreign Service Institute.
You can also read this story in the latest Wittenberg Magazine at https://bit.ly/2vJTZ42.